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Jennifer Graham

Mother’s Day after divorce: It’s toast

(Istockphoto)
By Jennifer Graham
May 6, 2011

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IF YOU are one of the 840,000 or so American women on the brink of divorce, I urge you to reconsider, if not because of the societal calamities that will ensue, but because your husband won’t be around to supervise the preparation of your breakfast on Mother’s Day.

Seriously. It’s one of those things you don’t think about when the smiling therapist is yammering on about self-actualization. But when your husband has moved out, and you’re all alone with the kids, who’s in charge of your personal fulfillment on Mother’s Day? An 8-year-old, that’s who. Along with her older brother who thinks that the first step in cooking a hamburger is bringing a pot of water to a full boil.

Yes, that lovely breakfast in bed you currently enjoy on Mother’s Day will, upon your divorce, go up in smoke, like the toast on your future breakfast trays. After the decree, your Mother’s Day gifts will be not spa days and good jewelry, but chipped and unglazed pottery that your offspring create in art class. Divorce your spouse if you must, but know that the second Sunday in May will never be the same.

The apostle Paul, writing to Thessalonians and Corinthians, urged the early Church to take care of orphans and widows. Of course, there weren’t so many divorces back then. Getting rid of an unwanted spouse required merely identifying him or her as a Christian to the Romans, then letting the lions out.

Today, thanks to our ever-lengthening lifespans, there aren’t as many widows, but there is a surfeit of divorcees. Nearly 10 million mothers will awaken this Sunday with no father in the house. In some ways, Mother’s Day will be more meaningful. On my first Mother’s Day alone, I knew the homemade cards and assorted burnt offerings were the heart-felt work of my children alone, not their father.

And yet.

Browsing for cards for my own mother and grandmother, I see the selections from Daddy to Mommy, those that begin, “For my wife, my partner, my friend.’’ A pang.

Why do so many men give cards to their wives, who are not their mothers, on Mother’s Day? It is the marketplace’s acknowledgment of a truth: that Mother’s Day is not possible without Father, even if he, at some distant point in the future, is glaringly absent when the family gathers at the Doubletree for the Mother’s Day buffet.

It is interesting — and revealing — that we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but no widely celebrated Parents’ Day. Society undervalues the pair. Their children, however, do not. To young children, it is the combination of the two that matters most, far more than two individuals.

A mother and a father working together, raising children under one roof, make up a third, distinct creature, which I liken to the pushmi-pullyu of Dr. Doolittle lore. Hugh Lofting’s pushmi-pullyu is a beast with a head on each end, and so it is always awake. When one end is weary, the other is alert; it is a model of what a mom and a dad, together, should be. But divorce kills the parental pushmi-pullyu, and the more bitter the circumstances, the more dead the vital beast.

To children, for whom their parents’ divorce is an agonizing mystery, resurrection is always desired, if only so that Dad would be around this Sunday to do the dishes and carry the tray. In a republic run by children, divorce would again be illegal.

But fathers know best, don’t they? Mothers, and marriage therapists, too. And we all do the best we can on our individual paths to self-fulfillment, thus rendering 10 million households with a sleeping pushmi, an absent pullyu, and a lovingly prepared tray of Via and singed toast.

If the great apostle were alive and writing today, I believe he would tell us to take care of orphans and single mothers, above all else. At the very least, this weekend we should buy them a doughnut or two.

Jennifer Graham is a writer in Hopkinton.